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Judas Priest: Defenders of the Faith

Judas Priest live

For their new record, Judas Priest turned back the clock to time warp some of their ’70s prog-metal spirit into 2024.

Photo by Simon Reed

On their new album, Judas Priest brandish an Invincible Shield of righteous heavy metal.

When people talk about Judas Priest, the band’s biggest hits easily spring to mind, and rightfully so. “Breaking the Law,” “Living After Midnight,” “Heading Out to the Highway,” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” were the songs that made the iconic British metal band a household name in the ’80s. But long before such MTV-friendly anthems catapulted them into superstardom, and more recently, earned them a nod from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Musical Excellence category, Judas Priest cut a more progressive rug.


Their ’70s-era albums, like Stained Class and Sin After Sin (the latter featuring session drummer extraordinaire Simon Phillips), are masterworks of early progressive metal. Songs like “Victim of Changes,” “Sinner,” and “Beyond the Realms of Death” exude a stylistic depth and structural breadth that was mostly shed during their ’80s heyday. The rhythms—bass and drums in particular—were more adventurous, and the arrangements more intricate. It’s a style of music that would subsequently evolve through bands like Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, and others who have since come to define and expand the genre.

On their new album Invincible Shield, Judas Priest is retrieving a bit of that musical heritage. “I said a long time ago, when we were writing these songs, that they came out a bit more progressive,” says lead guitarist Richie Faulkner. “It’s not progressive like Dream Theater or Rush, but there are a few more twists and turns musically.” Indeed, the songs on Invincible Shield are definitely more complex than one might expect from the band, with many of the arrangements more akin to their ’70s period than the following decade’s crowd-pleasers. Songs like “Panic Attack” and “Trial By Fire” are either built around, or feature significantly, odd-time riffs, a far cry from the 4/4 time signatures Judas Priest built their global success around. Throw in a heaping cup of Screaming for Vengeance-era ferocity in terms of delivery on songs like “Gates of Hell” and “Crown of Horns,” and you have the basic ingredients of Invincible Shield. Bass player Ian Hill, who has been going through the set list for the upcoming tour, is also connecting the musical dots to past works. “The things I’m running through, like ‘Victim of Changes,’ ‘Sinner,’ and ‘The Sentinel,’ are all in the same mold,” the bassist explains. “There are lots of different parts—light and shade—it’s not just all one thing or another. And Invincible Shield is very much like that.”

Judas Priest - Crown of Horns


Originally formed in Birmingham, England, in 1969, Judas Priest has been through an unusually long list of lineup changes, with the core of the band evolving to include guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, bassist Ian Hill, and singer Rob Halford by the release of their debut LP, Rocka Rolla, in 1974. A revolving cast of drummers, including Les Binks and the aforementioned Phillips, mostly ended when Dave Holland joined in 1979, occupying the position for 10 years. Following his departure, Scott Travis joined and has been with the band ever since. Downing left the band in 2011, replaced by Faulkner. Tipton remains an official member of Judas Priest, but his touring activities have been limited since 2018 due to Parkinson’s disease, with Firepower and Invincible Shield producer Andy Sneap filling in for him on the road.

“There are lots of different parts—light and shade—it’s not just all one thing or another.” —Ian Hill

The elements of early Judas Priest’s sound, including Halford’s operatic vocal style and the twin-guitar power of Downing and Tipton, forged a template that would help define the heavy metal genre. Their 1977 release Sin After Sin was their first under a major label, and the first of 10 consecutive records to be certified Gold or Platinum. Then, 1980’s British Steel brought them notable mainstream attention with hits “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.” A decline in exposure during the mid 1990s, coinciding with Halford leaving and being replaced by Tim “Ripper” Owens, seems a distant memory, as the 2000s saw the band once again become a major force within the metal community. They were inaugural inductees into the VH1 Rock Honors in 2006, received a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2010, and had their songs featured in popular video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. 2018’s Firepower was the highest-charting album of the band’s career, and in 2022, Judas Priest were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Judas Priest caused quite a stir online when they announced the title and artwork for their 19th studio record, but Richie Faulkner says it’ll all make sense in the end.

Priest’s musical renaissance on Invincible Shield certainly adds greater dimension to their signature sound, but it isn’t really about taking a trip down memory lane. The nod to the past is mostly tangential. The real impetus was wanting to scratch a particular collective itch. “It’s a question of, ‘What can we do different? How can we make this more satisfying as a piece of art?’ If that doesn’t sound too pompous,” explains Faulkner. “You want to challenge yourself and you want to build upon what you’ve done already.”

“It’s a question of, ‘What can we do different? How can we make this more satisfying as a piece of art?’” —Richie Faulkner

Priest has never really been a band to repeat themselves too often. Yes, they’ve followed trends and exhausted songwriting formulas, but they’ve always adapted to changing times and band members. Between Andy Sneap’s fiery, modern production, Faulkner’s youthful and aggressive influence, and the underlying DNA—four of the guys in the band have been there for decades—Judas Priest pull off a pretty compelling hat trick on Invincible Shield. “You want to do something that’s going to be challenging, but also satisfying to us as creative people, and hopefully ticks the boxes for the fans as well,” says Faulkner.

There was, however, a bit of backlash from fans on social media over the album’s title and artwork when it was first announced—commenters felt it was boring and “cheesy”—but Faulkner says context will hopefully bring it all together. “I saw the comments,” he says. “I don’t stick my head in the sand. It’s heavy metal, it’s the shield that we all fly proudly and get behind, and it’s the thing that binds us together.” When the name, the artwork, and ultimately the music all come together, it will make sense, he says.

Glenn Tipton's Gear

Illness has forced veteran lead guitarist Glenn Tipton, pictured here in 2001, to step back slightly from his duties in Judas Priest, but it didn’t stop him from shredding on Invincible Shield.

Photo by Frank White

Guitars

  • ESP GT-600 Signature Model with Glenn Tipton Signature EMG GT Vengeance Pickup Set
  • Hamer Phantom GT Signature Model

Amps

  • Engl Invader II E642II
  • Engl E412VGB 4x12

Effects

  • dbx 166A 2-Channel Compressor/Limiter
  • DOD FX40B Equalizer
  • Dunlop DCR-2SR Cry Baby Rack Module
  • Mike Hill Services A-B Both Amp Switcher
  • Rocktron Intellifex 24-Bit Digital Effects Processor
  • Yamaha SPX90II Digital Multi-Effects Processor

Strings & Picks

  • Ernie Ball Custom Gauge (.009–.038)
  • Ernie Ball .46 mm picks

With Tipton sidelined and Downing out of the fold for more than a decade now, much of the writing and recording on Invincible Shield fell on Faulkner’s shoulders. Tipton is still contributing from the bench, but it’s Faulkner’s show now. When asked about the musical direction on Invincible Shield, Tipton adds, “It is definitely a case of Richie joining the writing team with his own individual ideas and going at it from slightly different angles.”

“It’s a question of, ‘What can we do different? How can we make this more satisfying as a piece of art?’” —Richie Faulkner

One noticeable difference wrought by those writing angles is the standout performance on Invincible Shield from Ian Hill. Though he’s been historically overlooked in the annals of great metal bassists, Hill has been the foundation of Judas Priest from the beginning, and is, in fact, the band’s only full-time original member. On Invincible Shield, he proves to be more than a root-note-pumping low-ender. Songs like “Panic Attack,” “The Serpent and the King,” and “Giants in the Sky” feature what Hill would call “busy bass work.” There are a lot of unison riffs between the bass and guitars, more along the lines of what you might expect from Iron Maiden, for example, or Stained Class Priest, even. Yet Hill’s approach remains simply focused on the songs. “I’ve always not done much more than what’s necessary,” he explains. “If you’re putting too much on it, you’re actually detracting from the song. This time around, the songs are busier and called for a little more movement.”

Richie Faulkner's Gear

Richie Faulkner has been a member of Priest since 2011, but he still gets nervous showing song ideas to his bandmates.

Photo by Tim Bugbee

Guitars

  • Gibson Flying V Signature Custom with Richie Faulkner Signature EMG 57/66 Pickup Set
  • Gibson Custom Shop Flying V with Floyd Rose
  • Gibson Custom Shop Flying V
  • Gibson Custom Shop Explorer
  • 1983 Gibson Les Paul Custom
  • 1976 Gibson Les Paul Custom

Amps

  • Marshall JCM800 2203
  • Wizard Modern Classic II
  • Wizard GCL 4x12 with Celestion G12H-150 Redback speakers

Effects

  • Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
  • Boss SL-2 Slicer
  • Dunlop JC95B Jerry Cantrell Signature Rainer Fog Cry Baby Wah
  • Dunlop JD4S Rotovibe Chorus/Vibrato
  • Dunlop DCR-2SR Cry Baby Rack Module
  • MXR Micro Chorus
  • Wampler Tumnus Deluxe
  • Wizard Gate Minder
  • RJM Music Technology Effect Gizmo Audio Loop Switcher
  • Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus

Strings & Picks

  • Ernie Ball Power Slinky (.011-.048)
  • Dunlop Flow Jumbo Grip 3.0 mm
    • Unlike Firepower, an album they had the luxury of recording together, Invincible Shield was done remotely, largely due to the pandemic. “The bare bones of these songs have been around since 2020, just before the lockdowns happened,” recalls Faulkner. After the lockdowns were lifted, the band went back out on the road for their 50th Anniversary tour, and scheduling conflicts ensued. Not to be deterred, and with enough experience to know there’s never a perfect time to do something, the band decided they were going to record the new album however they could, rather than wait for the perfect moment. “Sometimes you just have to do what you can do with the tools that you have,” says Faulkner. “So, I recorded the guitars in my studio at home. The drums were recorded in Nashville, and Rob’s vocals in Phoenix.” Hill actually put most of his bass lines down in hotel rooms on the last tour. “Andy is with us anyway, and he’s got his laptop,” Hill explains. “And you get these days off where you’re sitting around doing nothing, so we figured we might as well be productive. It was a great way to do it, just me and Andy. You’ve got another pair of eyes and you can try different things for the same part.”

      “I’ve always not done much more than what’s necessary.” —Ian Hill

      Invincible Shield is also a testament to how technology has revolutionized the process of making records, even for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Faulkner tracked his guitars at home using the Neural DSP Quad Cortex on a Marshall plexi-like setting. He then sent Sneap that sound along with a clean DI, so he could reamp it. “I think it was a Marshall JCM800 that he used. It’s a new combination—I’m joking,” he laughs, citing the holy grail of rock guitar amps. Faulkner says Sneap also put some gain boost in the front. “He’s a fan of the EVH 5150III and he had some plexis that he was using as well, so I’m not sure how he blended them, but that’s what he usually uses.”

      Ian Hill's Gear

      This year mark’s Judas Priest’s 55th year as a band, but they’re still chasing artistic and musical goals. “There’s always a challenge in making art,” says Faulkner, “and that’s what makes it special.”

      Photo by Tim Bugbee

      Basses

      • Four Spector Limited Edition Euro4 Ian Hill basses, two tuned to D#–G#–C#–F#, and two tuned to A#–D#–G#–C#

      Amps

      • SWR SM-1500
      • SWR Triad 3-Way Bass Speaker System

      Effects

      • Boss ME-50B Bass Multiple Effects
      • Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor
      • Mike Hill Services ABCD Guitar Switcher
      • Mike Hill Services Earth Loop - Ground Hum Eliminator
      • Shure AD4D Two-Channel Digital Wireless Receiver

      Strings & Picks

      • DR Black Beauties BKB-50 K3 Black Coated Bass Strings
      • Dunlop Nylon Standard .73 mm picks
      • Signature InTune plectrums

      Tipton says the rhythm guitars are put down to create a certain sound throughout the album, but for lead breaks, they will try anything to create the sound they want. “I’ll tweak [my sound] with different mikes and effects,” he explains. “Andy is very good with shaping the guitar sounds, and he knows what he needs to do to get it to sound like Priest.” The bass runs clean, direct to a laptop via an interface. Hill says this has been his approach for some time. “You need a clean bass sound—one that cuts through the two distorted guitars,” he says. “Anything that needs to be changed, or any effect that needs to go on, is put on afterwards.”

      As for the actual songwriting process, Tipton says it remains more or less the same, whereby he, Halford, and Faulkner all produce ideas separately then pool them together. But Faulkner has a slightly more nuanced take on the songwriting process, one that you might expect from someone who grew up a fan of the band.

      “It’s heavy metal, it’s the shield that we all fly proudly and get behind, and it’s the thing that binds us together.” —Richie Faulkner

      “It’s the scariest thing,” he admits. “Let’s say you take fifteen ideas, they’re not complete—they’re just ideas that you think are winners. Then, it’s your turn to put your stuff on and show the room. You think it’s good, but then you put it on in front of Glenn Tipton and Rob Halford, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god, what have I done here?’ Because all of a sudden, all your stuff sounds like shit,” he laughs. “I think that’s just the insecurities, and then you realize, they put ideas forward and they’re thinking the same thing.” One of the things Faulkner appreciates about this process is that it challenges him to think differently about his own ideas. “Glenn might say, ‘Turn that bit around,’ or ‘Change the feel in that bit.’ And then I do it and it’s like, ‘Ah, that’s actually unique. I wouldn’t have thought of that.’ And that’s when having three creative minds in the room makes the end result a lot better.”

      When it comes to crafting and tracking his guitar solos, Faulkner says about 75 percent of it is improvised. “We press record and let it rip,” he explains. “You do that three or four times and a couple of things become constant, subconsciously, and they stick, and so you build around that.” There are a few songs he worked out before recording, including “Panic Attack,” “Invincible Shield,” and “As God Is My Witness.”

      “It’s your turn to put your stuff on and show the room. You think it’s good, but then you put it on in front of Glenn Tipton and Rob Halford, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god, what have I done here?’” —Richie Faulkner

      Circling back around to the way Invincible Shield was pieced together remotely, Faulkner says there are always challenges when you record music. “Whether it’s Jaws and the shark is not working, or it’s our situation, there’s always a challenge in making art and that’s what makes it special,” he says. “The challenge for us was getting Invincible Shield to sound cohesive while recording it separately. By overcoming those challenges, it arms you for the next one, and you do it again and hopefully grow.”

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      At their 2022 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Judas Priest unleashed a three-guitar attack with K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton, and Richie Faulkner.

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